Split Lip Rayfield: Should Have Seen It Coming

Zeth Lundy
Split Lip Rayfield

Should Have Seen It Coming

Label: Bloodshot
US Release Date: 2004-09-28
UK Release Date: 2004-10-25

Split Lip Rayfield doesn't necessarily lambaste bluegrass; instead, think of the band as a group of mischievous older brothers that turn conventions on their heads and give them a twirl. Like a tickle attack that leaves the victim punished and helpless. A strong chance of scarring, but no permanent damage. If Split Lip Rayfield is a bully, though, it's a well-educated bully: its quartet of quick pickers is just as skilled in traditions as it is in perverting them.

Should Have Seen It Coming, the Wichita, Kansas band's fourth full-length for the Chicago roots label Bloodshot, is a bloodied-fingertip blur of saucy bluegrass. But don't let the strictly acoustic instrumentation (mandolin, banjo, guitar, bass) and four-part harmonies fool you. Split Lip Rayfield is most likely the only bluegrass band that can boast performing with both Del McCoury and Nashville Pussy. That's really more of a telling factoid than a contradictory one, for if there was a strain of bluegrass that induced headbanging, Split Lip Rayfield would be its Ramones. Twang of this nature refers not only to the resonating banjo strings, but to the whiplash crack rifling from a sea of flailing necks.

There are two kinds of Split Lip Rayfield songs: those that flare out of the gate with such ridiculous abandon you can smell the rubber burn, and those that can be called "breathers", the occasional moments where the sweat-stained armpits are given a chance to dry. The band puts its emphasis on the former, setting up a series of 100-meter dashes and knocking them down. Relying so heavily on virtuosity and breakneck tempos does breed a sort of mixed success; sometimes the songs themselves seem thin once you've gotten past the flashy showmanship. Then again, when music like this is so committed to setting your ears on fire, it's safe to assume its creators aren't so concerned with what you'll notice once the flames have been doused.

Still, Should Have Seen It Coming's most charged moments are impressive. No matter how fast the tune, or how scatterbrained the phrasing, the band keeps its instruments and harmonies locked as tight as one could possibly expect. The convulsive mandolin in "Truth and Lies" is as prickly as a tongue pressed to a battery, the song itself like a hoedown fueled on Jolt cola. The technical marvel of agility and endurance in "Lonely Man Blues" is unexpectedly superseded by an inventive assault of chords and exultant resolution. "Redneck Tailgate Dream", a song saluting the high life of TNN and dippin' chew, is the one instance of Split Lip Rayfield's primary formula slipping into novelty (thanks in large part to lines like "Coors Light's pouring down my throat / Last week I puked in my cousin's boat").

The kinder, gentler Split Lip Rayfield is exhibited through those "breather" songs. The band defies bluegrass preconceptions by weaving pop melodies into "Honestly" and "Promise Not to Tell", and disarms itself for reflection in the cheekily titled "Just Like a Gillian Welch Song". There's still an irrepressible urge to not play it straight in the ballads -- most notably the colloquial humor of "I was your bitch for a while but I paid off that debt" from the otherwise patient "Don't Believe That You're Someone" -- which blocks the album from maintaining a nice balance of guffaws and gravity.

Regardless of its flaws, Should Have Seen It Coming does offer plenty of virtues in its urgency and sheer physical expression. Bluegrass aficionados will likely revel in the band's dazzling command of the frets, and even those who don't claim to be fans of the genre will find their jaws dropping on every other song. For Split Lip Rayfield, it's all about the onslaught of fierce pickin': its whirlwind concoctions use speed to blindside any further scrutiny.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.